HANFORD — Local entrepreneurs Mark Cole and Kalish Morrow have an unusual idea for the Bastille in downtown Hanford: Turn it into a microbrewery/steak house and run it as a nonprofit entity to refurbish downtown buildings.
“I want to create a great atmosphere where people will want to come and have a great steak,” Cole said.
“I would just like to see something that is going to influence the community, really help downtown,” said Morrow, who owns The Soaking Tub, a downtown Hanford business. “I think we would get a lot of support for that.”
The venue would be called The Haunt, in keeping with the Bastille’s reputation for having ghosts and other paranormal phenomena.
Steaks would be barbecued outside. A small kitchen would be used for salad preparation/light fare only, according to Cole.
The menu would be kept simple to keep down costs. Cole said the interior décor would be Steam Punk.
Cole and Morrow first presented the idea to the Hanford City Council at the council’s May 17 meeting.
Their presentation is the second proposal to the council to bring life back into the Bastille, which has been empty since a popular but troubled bar in the historic building shut down in 2009.
The first proposal, from local developer Jerry Irons, was presented to the council in March.
Irons also wants a microbrewery in the Bastille, but it would be a brewery only, not a restaurant.
His idea called for putting a separate eatery/bar in the top floor of the old courthouse.
Irons’ plan calls for the city to spend $950,000 to $1.5 million to improve the exterior of the Bastille and Courthouse Square, then loan him another $550,000 to $750,000 for interior Bastille renovations that include rebuilding the restrooms for disabled access, expanding the kitchen, putting in an elevator and adding dividing walls.
Irons says he’d chip in $250,000 to $500,000 of his own money.
Cole and Morrow estimate that it would cost about $750,000 in work on the Bastille to make it operational. They are calling for much of that money to be raised through a new nonprofit organization they’re creating called Restore Downtown Hanford.
Morrow said the money would be raised through hosting events.
Morrow said they’ve completed the paperwork to formally establish the organization as a 501(c)(3) entity, but haven’t gotten official approval from the Internal Revenue Service yet.
Morrow said the idea of running a steak house/microbrewery as a nonprofit organization was at least in part designed to make it more attractive to the city, since in theory it would require less city money than Iron’s concept.
“We were wondering what could give us a leg up,” Morrow told the council on May 17.
“It’s an unusual idea, but I think we can make it work,” she said in an interview.
Cole, who has a background in radio marketing, said in an interview that all net profits from the steakhouse/microbrewery would go into a fund to restore not only the Bastille, but also other downtown buildings.
Local experts said they’re not quite sure how the concept of a nonprofit restaurant would work.
“I haven’t heard of it before,” said Shelly Talbert, executive director of Main Street Hanford. “It’s a unique idea.”
Talbert said she “loved the concept” but hasn’t seen a budget or business plan yet.
She said the restaurant would have to be attractive to work out in the long term.
“I think it will depend on the service, the quality of the food and the prices,” she said.
Lemoore Chamber of Commerce CEO Jenny MacMurdo said she’s heard of microbreweries being operated as nonprofit organizations, but not restaurants.
MacMurdo said more employees are required in a restaurant than a simple brewery.
"It’s an interesting idea,” she said. “I think a [not-for-profit] restaurant would be more difficult.”
Cole said he has no previous restaurant experience but would create a board of directors that would include people with restaurant backgrounds.
“I have people who have run restaurants who would be helping me,” he said.
Cole said he remembers when Hanford “used to have some of the best restaurants in the Valley.”
He cited the heyday of the Imperial Dynasty restaurant in the 1970s, when it was not uncommon to see Hollywood celebrities drop in.
“I just want to make Hanford Hanford again, bring it back to its glory days,” Cole said.
The city is planning to send out a formal request for proposals for the Bastille to see if there are any other ideas out there, according to Hanford City Manager Darrel Pyle.
Pyle said the plan could be approved by the city council as early as next week.
“I think something’s going to happen to the Bastille,” Irons said. “I think there’s been too much heat put on the councilmen to do something. I think they’d like to do it.”